LESLEY ANN MCDANIEL is a lifelong lover of words, and theatre. While earning a degree in acting, she fell in love with theatrical costuming, and pursued that as a career while nurturing her passion for writing on the side. Through God’s guidance, she has shifted her focus to honing her skills as a writer of women’s fiction. She is a member of the Northwest Christian Writers Association and of a wonderful critique group. A native Montanan and a Big Sky girl at heart, Lesley now resides in the Seattle area.
All she’s ever wanted is to attend cooking school in Seattle. But when a big-shot rodeo rider comes to work on her family’s Montana ranch, Janessa’s determined not to let the cowboy distract her from her goal no matter how charming he is.
Micah was a rodeo star, but he’s been trampled by one bull too many. While he’s deciding his next move, he gets sidetracked by a pretty cowgirl who’s headed out of town. Can Micah convince her to take a chance on a cowboy ready to put down roots?
But God forbid that I should boast except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, by whom the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world. Galatians 6:14
Janessa Greene could have sworn her old hatchback lost a little more oomph with each passing day. As she pulled off the highway and through the Bar-G Ranch gate, she sent up a prayer. No way could she spend money on her car right now—not with all the expenses she had coming up. Both she and her car would have to go the extra mile for just a while longer.
As she gunned down the long stretch toward the house, the sight of twenty or so impatient-looking parents standing outside their horse trailers made her stomach buckle. She checked the clock on the dash and grimaced. Why did they all have to be so prompt on the days when she was running behind?
She clattered to a halt between the house and the barn, then gathered up her work bag and purse. Leaping out of the car, she gave the parents a quick wave. “I’ll only be a sec!”
A grating mixture of grumbles and moans followed her as she ran toward the front porch steps. She winced. Those folks had paid good money to have her teach their kids to ride this summer, and they had every right to expect her to deliver her best. She had tried to get there on time. If only the restaurant would stop being so busy on her class days.
She scurried inside, slowing only to push the door shut and to gather up the mail from the table next to it. Flipping through the stack as she bounded across the foyer, she held her breath. Today had to be the day.
“Argh!” She tossed the pile of pure disappointment onto the bench at the base of the staircase, gripped the bannister, and charged up. It was July already. Shouldn’t she have heard by now?
Reaching the top step in record time, she darted across the hall and into her room. She kicked the door closed, dropped her bags on the bed, and tore off her grease-splattered tee, then grabbed a plaid cotton western shirt from the back of her desk chair. As she yanked it on, a rap on the door gave her a jolt.
“Ness, it’s Courtney.”
Her fingers found the shirt buttons as she searched the floor for a pair of jeans. “I’ll be right out.”
“I can go down and get the kids started if you want.”
“Really?” Relief surged as she retrieved some decently-clean Levis off the window seat. “That would make you my favorite sister-in-law.”
Courtney’s laugh sounded through the door. “I’m your only sister-in-law. Besides, you know I love those kids.”
Janessa breathed a little easier. The parents would feel better seeing Courtney, but she’d still have to hustle.
As she fumbled with her cuff button, her focus fixed on the poster over the desk. A plain chef’s jacket hung on a fancy wire hanger with the words ‘Le Cordon Bleu—L’Art Culinaire’ above, and the logo of the school below.
Leaving her second cuff undone, she tugged at the laces on her white SlipGrips—great for the kitchen but definitely not for the arena—and allowed her thoughts to stray. Le Cordon Bleu had been her dream ever since she’d realized she wanted to be a chef. Not only was it a great school, but they had a location in Seattle, not far from Thornton Springs. She bit her lip and yanked at the second lace. Okay, not too far to drive home for holidays and an occasional weekend, anyway. Montana only seemed like a million miles away from everything truly exciting in the world.
She kicked off the shoes. For as long as she could remember, all she’d wanted was to get out of Thornton Springs. Now that she had finally graduated from high school and worked for a year to save up money, her plans were just about to jell.
Flinging herself onto the bed, she quickly replaced her white Dockers with the jeans. She rolled onto her belly to reach under the bed, pulling out one boot, then a second.
She maneuvered into a sitting position, then yanked on the boots and scanned the immediate vicinity for her belt. Her eyes flicked across the framed photo that sat on her bedside table, momentarily sidetracking her with the familiar combination of comfort and sorrow that always accompanied it. Absentmindedly fingering the ever-present heart-shaped diamond necklace at her throat, she wondered for the zillionth time how different her life would be if her dad was still here. He had her heart, even after being gone for so many years.
Forcing her thoughts back to the task at hand, she plucked up her floral-shammed pillow from the head of the bed and let out a mini-cry of victory. She dove for a large gold buckle that peeked out from under her sloppily-placed duvet, then swung her legs around and clamored to her feet. She quickly looped the belt into her jeans and grabbed a hair band off her bedside table, then dug through the pile of hats on the chair next to the door. She paused, running her hand over her Le Cordon Bleu ball cap. Her mind latched onto the one problem with her plan, the magnitude of which grew with each passing day.
What if the school didn’t accept her?
Shoving away the thought, she snapped up her favorite white cowgirl hat and plunked it onto her head. She just couldn’t let herself think that way. It was only July. There was still plenty of time for her to hear from them. Besides, if she didn’t get in, they’d send a rejection letter. No news didn’t necessarily mean bad news.
She darted back out into the hallway and took the stairs two at a time, awkwardly yanking her hair into a ponytail as she flew.
Making her way across the drive, she saw that Courtney had gotten the class started preparing their horses. A few parents lingered along the outside of the fence, but most of them had left, probably furious at her for cutting short their hour to go get things done.
Rushing into the barn, she grabbed a curry comb off its hook on the wall and greeted her horse. “Hey, Miss Molly.” As she ran the comb quickly across Molly’s back, she mumbled to herself. She’d have to do a better job of grooming her later on.
Tossing down the comb, she took up the brush. “Sorry, baby. You deserve better than this.” Moving around to the horse’s other side, she realized she’d left her second cuff undone. She fumbled with the button as she continued to brush Molly, but since she actually needed both hands to accomplish each task, she succeeded only in scratching her wrist with the bristles.
“Youch!” She jumped back, pulling up her sleeve to examine the scratch.
“Works better if you use the brush on the horse.”
The confident baritone behind her nearly startled her out of her skin. She whipped around to see a guy hoisting a saddle up onto the rack on the wall, glancing over his shoulder and smirking like the feline friend of the recently departed canary.
“What in the…?” Her tone came out a little more venomous than she’d intended, but he looked like a guy who could handle it. She’d been standing there talking to her horse. Why hadn’t he made his presence known?
“Hey, I noticed that mare has some weeds stuck in her mane.” Speaking without even looking at her now, he secured the saddle. “You know, if you don’t have time to groom your horse correctly, you don’t have time to own a horse.”
Her jaw went slack. She’d been riding her whole life. This was her horse and her barn, and this guy—whoever he was—had no right to admonish her. Questions swirled in her brain, and she spit out the first one she could latch onto. “Who are you?”
Chuckling lightly as he finally turned to face her, he radiated an air of belonging that implied she was the outsider here, not him. His lack of a swift answer to her question gave the impression that he thought she should somehow already know who he was—like he was some kind of celebrity or something.
“Well…?” She seethed. Not only had he made her even later by springing up behind her like that, but he had implied that she wasn’t properly caring for her horse. And now he wouldn’t even identify himself.
Flashing a gleaming white smile that dented a dimple in his cheek, he ambled toward her. He pushed up the brim of his well-worn tan Stetson, revealing tousled blond hair and a pair of eyes so clear and blue they conjured an instant image of Flathead Lake on a hot summer day.
She gulped. As much as she hated to admit it, this guy was the best looking thing to hit Thornton Springs since Jeffrey Mark Caulfield came to town to make that movie last year.
“Name’s Micah.” Stepping confidently close to her, he held out a hand. “I started work here this morning.”
Oh. Of course. She’d forgotten all about the new ranch hand her brother Adam had hired.
Twisting her mouth in irritation at his obvious lack of first day self-consciousness, she reached out for a quick shake. “I’m Janessa.” Hoping to convey a lack of interest in further conversation, she returned to brushing Molly. Time was wasting.
“Pleasure to meet you, Janessa.” After a long moment of studying her the way you would an auction horse you were considering bidding on, he dipped the brim of his hat and strode out of the barn.
Her hand slowed on Molly’s back as she furtively witnessed his exit. She gave herself a mental shake. What was the matter with her? Standing there gawking like a schoolgirl when she needed to get to her class.
Irritation swelled in her gut. Just what she didn’t need, another pointless distraction from what really mattered—making the money to escape Thornton Springs and get her life off the ground.
As she hurried over to fetch her tack, her gaze again drifted to the doorway, but he had moved out of view. Guys. That was one thing she just couldn’t waste time thinking about right now.
She clicked her tongue. Of course, not thinking about them would be a whole lot easier if God didn’t make some of them so all-fired nice to look at.
Micah fought a hard battle with his father to the point of running away from the life he knew so he could live the life he wanted. Have you ever felt pressured by someone close to you to follow a path you don’t feel in your heart is right for you? Leave a comment below and share your story.